For a few weeks now, it’s been an incessant question wherever I go: “What in the world is happening at the Board of Supervisors?” The subtext being: How did it get so nasty and squalid? Is this the ugly national melodrama now touring our local venues of government?
I have been answering it bluntly, without paying false tribute to collegiality and or spinning fools-gold hope for harmony: The new majority of the board is in lockstep with the radical right. They take their cues from a combustible demagogue who’s paid to lobby in the plural as COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business), and they have their supporters show up to spew personal attacks, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts.” Our civic discourse, such as it is locally, has been infantilized by their paranoid anger, which often originates from tabloid blogs and AM radio babblers.
Despite the election results in November, there were some who were hopeful. Perhaps new Supervisor John Peschong would at least put an end to the farce around the board’s chair rotation, signaling his understanding that the board governs as a group and showing he could be a leader for the whole county. Instead, he bowed down as a tool to COLAB. Beneath his even-keeled veneer, Peschong was showing the public what power looked like at its pettiest, and it ain’t pretty.
So, what to expect? Not just divisive tensions and hard words, but what really matters: an agenda carried out by three climate change deniers to favor their donors and friends. The highly touted “reform agenda” authored by COLAB’s well-pensioned mouthpiece is little more than hyper-partisan froth—zero-sum generalities meant to favor the faithful and stick it to the opposition. It’s a spoiled child’s agenda, really, except that its consequences could be ruinous.
Expect rollbacks and rollovers on any protection that can be vilified as a regulation. Expect wild lurches toward offshore drilling, inland drilling, and mining. Look for budget requests that will pull money from programs for the poor and mentally ill to pay for more pothole repair and pet projects.
Think I’m exaggerating? Consider this: Over the last couple of years, Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, with assistance from the often invertebrate Frank Mecham, decreed SLO County would: 1) oppose access to free internet for low-income families; 2) oppose legislation that would stop discrimination against Section 8 low-income housing seekers; 3) oppose the local Children’s Bill of Rights, a non-binding statement of aspirations for our county’s youth.
Add to this their foul behavior at the Air Pollution Control Board (APCD), where they have long denied the science documenting dust pollution from the Oceano Dunes. Their antics scraped new lows as they voted with Mrs. Arnold to rewrite the minutes of a previous meeting, despite the video and official transcripts that documented what actually happened. Yes, that’s right; they literally rewrote the minutes and voted to have these false minutes adopted. The truth never gets in the way when there are political points to score, and in this dubious skill, Debbie Arnold is truly a virtuoso.
But wait, there’s more to dread. Despite the voters’ clear voice on legalizing cannabis, expect this board majority to pass overly restrictive, fear-based ordinances that will merely be extensions of this nation’s disastrous war on drugs. Booze good, pot bad, is the formulation one can surmise by looking at how accommodating the county is to the wine and associated events industry.
There won’t be major transportation infrastructure work to relieve congestion and make roadways safer for motorists and bicyclists, because the majority opposed the self-help measure that would pay for what’s no longer provided by the state. Next time you’re stuck in traffic or learn of a tragic roadway death, console yourself with the majority’s anti-tax rhetoric.
These three elected officials make no excuses for their retrograde views and their pledges against compromise. Government is the enemy. And three votes give them the controlling voice to turn their ideology into poor policy and bad decisions.
Debbie Arnold is now the senior member of the majority, the one with the most government experience. While some remark on how nice she is, her limited grasp of public policy is revealed by her innumerable questions on basic issues. If the answers prove inconvenient, she retreats to her routine of scripted talking points. Whether her lack of knowledge is willful or Machiavellian can be debated, but her desire to get her cronies what they want is clear.
Similarly, Lynn Compton—who openly yells at staff in private and then publicly bludgeons them with repeated loaded questions—typically rejects facts that don’t fit her ideology. Witness her immediate and ongoing assault on the APCD science on dust pollution. Both she and Mrs. Arnold apparently take pride in rejecting the advice of technical experts, perhaps fearing such people are either closet liberals or unwitting dupes in a larger conspiracy.
And as for closed session hijinks, I’m not allowed to remark, but let’s just say suggestions of collusion by Arnold and Compton against the interests of the county are very real and very worrisome.
So, with a third COLABorator seated now, it’s vital that you, the public, get involved. Our future depends on your engagement with a Board of Supervisors majority that is far more ideologically extreme than most people in our county.
The recent activism from emboldened local progressives is deeply encouraging, but the energy of marching in the streets must be brought to the chambers of local government—transformed to a steady commitment to come out, speak out, write letters, and fight lies with truth.
No matter your political leaning, if you want a fair, functional, and thoughtful county government, the current Trumpist power grab by the far right requires active departures from the comfort zones of indifference and wishful thinking about playing nice. You have to be willing now to fight for facts, for the truth, and ultimately, fight for our quality of life in this community.
Adam Hill is SLO County’s recently re-elected 3rd District supervisor. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org or write a letter to the editor for publication at email@example.com.
-- Adam Hill - San Luis Obispo County supervisor, San Luis Obispo